Recently I’ve been craving to expand my horizons a bit, and The Comet is Coming quickly became one of the bands I wanted to see. I picked up their debut album, 2016’s Channel the Spirits, and enjoyed it, noting with interest that they were going to be playing in Bristol on their current tour.
What I didn’t note was that I’d forgotten to buy a ticket – and the gig had sold out! Casting around for spares, I managed to narrowly avoid being scammed (thanks for nothing, you egregious scrote!) before eventually coming up trumps (thanks for everything, Rob!). There were plenty of people trying to offload tickets (without profiteering) due to the vagaries of life, so it seems right that more venues should assist with this in a grown up way, rather than just trousering people’s cash – sometimes years in advance – and ending their interest at that point. By helping with resale, for a fee, it would be safer and possibly increase initial ticket uptake by those who might be put off in case they can’t actually attend on the day. What do I know, and who knows what the answer is, but it’s about time face value resale was actively encouraged. It’s tough for venues, but it’s also tough for punters, and without them, you have no venues.
Anyway, back to the reason we’re here. The SWX runs a late club night on Saturday, so an early start is necessary to finish before the 10pm curfew. Having only obtained my ticket at 6pm, and with doors at 6.30, travelling over from South Wales resigned me to the fact that I’d miss the support, but I got in just in time to catch the last number from poet, singer and Comet is Coming collaborator Joshua Idehen. With just electronics dude in support, Joshua had built a clear rapport with the rammed-in crowd (which threatened to burst the SWX at the seams) and his rap-based style was going down well. I wish I’d caught the rest of his set.
With clear expectation in the room, a cheer rang out as the lights dimmed for the main event. From where I was initially standing, I could see the band preparing themselves in the behind-the-stage bar, coming out and up the steps to the stage as the cheers grew louder, the steampunk edge to the fashion choices only adding to the sense of ‘otherness’. With few exceptions, I couldn’t tell you what they played during the set, I recognised a couple and there was a swathe from new album Hyper-Dimensional Expansion Beam, but otherwise I was in blind, and it was none the worse for that as the colours, rhythms and textures permeated every fibre of the dancing masses, and in my mind I danced along, while exuding some minor dad-shuffling.
The three members play their parts and fully pull their weight, showing the cohesion they have as a unit and that this is not simply a vehicle for the saxophone, even though King Shabaka (or Shabaka Hutchings to his mum) stands head and shoulders above – both figuratively and literally. He is visually striking from the start, but his playing is out of this world, underlining the ‘space jazz’ feel.
But it isn’t jazz. It isn’t funk. It isn’t rock. It isn’t dub. It isn’t dance. Whatever it is, it touches all of these and more, Hutchings’ sax imperious as it confidently leads the way, flurries of rapid notes spinning out to hack and slash through the tangled genre-web. I’ve never seen anyone play saxophone the way he does, powerful, deft and beautifully phrased at all times. I don’t know how he does it, but I want to see him do it again soon. The contributions from each of the trio make for a heady brew and a compelling listen throughout, riveting and frequently very exciting; this is a band that you really need to see play live. To top it off, the sound is fantastic, clear and full without the need for intense volume.
At times it felt more like a rave, the music inexorably insisting that those present move with the rhythms. With Danalogue and Betamax laying down some thick grooves and electronic soundscapes, the sound is dynamic. Danalogue is the frontman, as such, addressing the crowd from behind his shades (as worn by all three) while triggering all manner of sounds from his keyboard rig, dextrously running up and down the keys to add VERY deep bass and trills. Betamax gets a drum solo towards the end of the set, and I realise that you no longer seem to get these very often. Love them or loathe them, it gives the others a breather, and they come back fully refreshed to chase the set to its thrilling conclusion.
Finally, Joshua Idehen returns for the last number of the encore, dedicating Imminent to “my boy Rishi Sunak”, to howls of derision, before following up in full MC style: “That boy that boy that idiot, Thinks he’s grimey, thinks he’s brilliant, He don’t know his time is limited, Can’t see his end is imminent”, emphasising the final verses via a megaphone. Needless to say, the whole place goes bananas.
Looking back, it was a thrilling and often visceral set that took multi-fold inspirations and drew them anew with inescapable rhythms that got even the most arthritic dancing. A joyous and uplifting show that put a spring back in the step, and I’m not surprised that they were able to sell it out.
If you get the chance to see this band, grab it, whether you think the music is going to be for you or not. Take a punt and don’t look back.
Summon the Fire
Blood of the Past
Birth of Creation
Atomic Wave Dance
Imminent (with Joshua Idehen)
King Shabaka (Shabaka Hutchings) – Saxophone
Danalogue (Dan Leavers – Keyboards, Electronics
Betamax (Max Hallett) – Drums